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Stearns County Courthouse Dedicated – On ‘This Date In Central Minnesota History’

Stearns County Courthouse (Stearns History Museum)

ST. CLOUD - September 1st, 1922 – the present Stearns County Courthouse was completed.

In 1864, the original Stearns County Courthouse was built in what was then Columbia Square, but is now known as Courthouse Square. For a time the courthouse was adequate for the citizens of Stearns County. However, after several minor additions to the original building, it was realized that the current structure wasn’t adequate for the growing community. So in 1919, the Stearns County Commissioners adopted a resolution calling for a larger, more modern facility to be constructed. The plans for the improved courthouse moved ahead quickly, and the old courthouse was torn down in 1920. The County asked for bids to build a new structure, and the contract was awarded to Toltz, King, and Day of St. Paul, Minn.

By the spring of 1921, the cornerstone for the new courthouse had been laid, and materials were arriving on the site. By early 1922, the finishing touches were being added. Most of the exterior of the building is granite from Rockville Granite Co. in Cold Spring, Minn. Before long, the most noticeable features of the courthouse became visible: the yellow terra cotta dome and the granite pillars. The dome has an outer diameter of 46 feet and peaks at 109 feet tall. The six granite pillars that stand along the main entrance are solid granite and have a polished exterior, giving them their familiar shine. Each pillar is 16 feet high, 4.5 feet in diameter, and weighs 50 tons.

On September 1, 1922, St. Cloud’s new architectural masterpiece was ready to open as “A Landmark of Civic Progress and a Memorial to Sturdy Pioneers.” The citizens of St. Cloud and all of Central Minnesota hailed the new courthouse as a masterpiece and were even more impressed by the interior. Inside the main foyer stood the grand staircase with a mural located above that was created by artist Elsa Jemne as a tribute to Stearns County’s great pioneer heritage.

Courthouse interior (Stearns History Museum)

Another piece of the courthouse that received praise was its clock. Although technically 4 different clock faces (one on each side of the courthouse), they are all run by a single clockworks located inside the dome that weighs 2,000 pounds. When first opened, these clockworks also ran 13 others located throughout the building. One newspaper article from 1929 said that the clock at the Stearns County Courthouse would rival any other clock, and would last longer than even London’s Big Ben.

The courthouse served Stearns County well over the next several decades. But by the late 1980’s, it again became apparent that upgrades were needed.

In 1991 the courthouse underwent massive renovations totaling 4.2 million dollars. The old heating, cooling, and electrical systems were replaced, new windows and elevators were installed, and the courthouse’s trademark dome and clock were restored and fitted with new lights. This allowed the dome to take on its now-familiar nighttime glow.

The Stearns County Courthouse is not just filled with history, but is a piece of history itself–in 1982 it was added to The National Register of Historic Places.

Thanks to Stearns History Museum Volunteer Spencer Brown for his help with our series, “This Date In Central Minnesota History” on WJON.

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